Jennifer Taaffe, CEO of iZest Marketing Group, won Digital, Science & Technology Businesswoman of the Year 2018. Speaking to Jillian Bolger after the IMAGE awards ceremony, Jennifer opened up about the difficulties of being a small business; as well as the exciting deals in iZest's future...
Eight years ago this month, Jennifer Taaffe set up iZest Marketing in a back room in her house, with five clients. “It’s the typical new business story: The first year, I didn’t leave the house!” she admits.
Today, her company has offices in Sandyford, employs 16 staff and works with large Irish and international brands, across strategy, brand and digital marketing projects. Heading up business strategy, Jennifer also looks after account management and iZest’s design teams.
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Having studied hotel management and received an MBS from the Smurfit School of Business, she earned her marketing stripes in the hospitality sector. In 2003, she moved to an account manager role with the newly established Pigsback.com, quickly rising to the role of MD, before branching out on her own.
Today, iZest numbers Fáilte Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation, John West, Disneyland Paris and many Middle Eastern brands amongst its clients. “We have a really good mix, mainly from the travel and retail sector.”
Jennifer Taaffe accepts her award; photo by Kieran Harnett
As a small business, they punch well above their weight, with iZest’s profile far bigger than its staff numbers suggests. “We’ve been pretty clever with the few bits of PR that we’ve done, and that’s been our main marketing tool – getting the odd piece of coverage and granting exclusive interviews in quality publications. A small piece in IMAGE can last a year in marketing value. Six months later, I’m still getting texts from people saying, ‘I just saw you in the magazine.’”
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Jennifer admits their biggest challenge when pitching to bigger clients, is the company’s scale and size. “We have to work a lot harder to be credible and convince them that we’re big enough to take on their business. Big clients prefer big agencies, even though they don’t always like the big fees that go with them. We have to work harder to convince them we are going to be here for the long term and are not some fly-by-night company.”
Guiding the company through many challenges, Jennifer spearheaded an exciting funding and minority share sale to the Al Mana Group last year, one of biggest family companies in Qatar and the Middle East (almana.com). “Expansion was always part of the plan, but we were thrilled when we signed with this incredible partner.”
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The high profile deal was worth in excess of €1.2 million and has put the company on a firm financial footing for the future. “The Middle East is becoming a bigger focus for 2019, and our partner is keen for us to set up an office out there. My husband is spending a bit of time out there, in Qatar and Dubai. We’ve done all the recces and are now trying to meet possible staff.”
Twelve years ago, as a 28-year-old, Jennifer was first nominated in the Young Businesswoman of the Year category of the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards. “This is my third time as a nominee, as I was also in this Digital, Science & Technology category last year.
"Winning this award means so much, and getting that recognition for the team will give them a huge boost. It is a team award, and it’s a huge endorsement coming from such a credible source.”
Photo: Jennifer Taaffe, taken by Anthony Woods